Real Racing, Gear at Big Bear Speedway

Sitting in her Sodi Kart RT8, waiting for the flag to drop, Sara Johnson certainly looked like a race car driver. She flipped her helmet visor down and then up—check. Pedals adjusted to her size—check. Then green flag dropped and she sped off in a souped up kart that’s a mini race car down the Grand Prix-style track at Big Bear Speedway.

Kart racing at Big Bear SpeedwayThe 23 guys including some from New Zealand and Australia in town for a bachelor party who took turns on the track last month,  not so much. Sure the helmets and head sock were there—every racer wears one at Big Bear’s fastest attraction—but below the neck each was wearing a suit, required dress for the weekend, some with zany designs like shamrocks and Pac-Man. No matter; the competition was fierce during kart racing on the track at Big Bear Speedway, at Big Bear Snow Play.

Tires squealing in the turns, engines roaring, each pushed their karts to the limit in a real Go-Pro experience. Karts can go upwards of 30 mph as they circle the fifth-of-a-mile long track filled with hair pin turns. Tecpro barriers used in Formula 1 and circuits around the world line the track to make the experience even more authentic and pay attention to the green, yellow and checkered flags just like at pro races.

These aren’t your father’s go-karts either. Features like self-adjusting hydraulic brakes and vacuum fuel pumps come straight from the automotive industry. The karts handle like race cars and the Honda Whisper Motors generate amazing power, enough for cars to lay rubber through turns though virtually impossible to roll.

The group cut its numbers in half, qualifying to the top 11 drivers for the finals. Bachelor Jesse Evans advanced with the second best time of the heat at 28.164, just tenths of a second behind Ed Wilkie’s 27.809. Racers are timed to the thousandths so there’s no fudging or denying the outcome, too bad for the guy who clocked practice laps with a best of over 50 seconds.

With the first session under their belts there were terrific times with seven of the 11 logging 27 second laps. “Riding the track the second time you start to figure things out,” said Wilkie. “There was one turn back there I started to get the feel of, how to take it better.”

Even the guys who work there don’t run much better than 27 seconds. Bryan Wisniewski’s best is 27.300 and Dylan Eubanks a half-second faster at 26.700. Both are off from the course record of 25.400 set by a guy from down the hill named Robbie. “He comes up about every three weeks and spends the better part of a day here,” Wisniewski said.

The racing experience begins in the base lodge where first time guests view a two-and-a-half minute safety video. Then they’re issued Speedway licenses—complete with picture—good for one year and assigned a heat number.

After donning helmets and last minute instructions, the pit crew waves drivers onto the track in staggered starts, no more than 11 cars per heat. First lap is not timed so racers can get a feel for the car and track. Timing starts with the second lap and drivers get about seven to nine laps depending on how fast they go. At the end of the heat drivers are waved in to the pit area where they can get a printout of their time and the six fastest times in the heat.

The leader in karting, Sodi Karts balance speed and safety with four point seat belts and Extra Enhanced remote controls so the pit crew can shut down or throttle back any or all karts at any time for safety. Sodi RT8 sports design elegance and fully adjustable pedals to serve up the ultimate race experience. Big Bear Speedway has 17 single karts and six doubles which have two steering wheels and two brake pedals for training or parent riding with a child.

Initial Speedway membership has actually been lowered to just $20 (double kart $25) which includes photo license for one year, one race and head sock worn under the helmet. Existing members pay $15 per race ($20 double) or buy credits which are stored on your license for a year to save up to 30%. Big Bear Speedway is open weekends 10 a.m.-6 p.m., till 5 p.m. Sundays till daily operations begin in June. Times are posted for all to see plus there’s family priced snack bar and video games.

Big Bear Speedway is at 42825 Big Bear Boulevard at Division, next to Motel 6. Call (909) 585-0075.

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